Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation continues to battle the scourge of insurgency especially in its northeastern Borno State. Years back, the entire Muslim-dominated north was targeted by terrorists.
Government estimates indicate that there are at least 10 million young boys across Nigeria’s north who are sent out by parents and guardians to solicit for alms on the streets.
The boys are locally referred to as: ‘almajiris’ – an Arabic term for boys who leave home in search of knowledge in Islam .
The country’s north suffers in the area of different social indicators like enrollment in school, child mortality and early marriages. Records show that attendance remains quite low in schools.
But a school in the region is trying to change the narrative. Here, young boys who would have otherwise fallen prey to Boko Haram recruits have found solace and the programme is seen as a viable means to ensuring that youngsters are not lured by terror groups.
The young boys in this school used to be sent by their families away from home to boarding schools across northern Nigeria, where they could learn the Koran under the care of an Islamic scholar or “Malam”, but with time the system became overwhelmed and neglected thus many became vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of abuse.
“We walk around the streets and beg for food to eat. My mallam (teacher) cautioned us against meeting or talking to strangers, he said it is not good because some of them may ‘steal’ us,” one boy told the AFP.
The school which is run with the support of the American University of Nigeria groups the boys according to age and time of enrolment, with the curriculum being expanded as the boys advance.
One of the aims of the programme is to encourage people to stop referring to the boys as ‘almajiris’, a word that tends to carry negative connotations.
“We have about 200 roughly in each programme. Some people have come forward to support it but the numbers don’t seem to be going down even though most of the internally displaced people have gone home,” one of the leaders of the group championing this cause said.